Your first reaction upon realizing that you’re a victim of identity theft might be shock and anger, but you don’t have a lot of time to spend on the emotional impact of the ordeal. The longer a thief uses your identity, the harder it may become to repair the damage. Reacting quickly and decisively to identity theft is the first important step toward putting it behind you. Here are a few of the first steps you should take.
Notify the Company Involved
Contact the business or lender with whom the fraudulent transaction took place. Close the account in question, whether it’s one you’ve had for a while or one that the thief opened in your name. Make sure creditors mark the account as closed upon your request — a notation that your credit card was lost or stolen can have a negative effect on your credit report.
There may be more than one transaction involved, and you might encounter some resistance, especially from smaller businesses that don’t fully understand your dilemma. Insist on receiving copies of all paperwork involved in the transactions anyway.
Contact the Federal Trade Commission
Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and complete an “Identity Theft Victim’s Complaint and Affidavit,” which you can find online. You’ll need the affidavit when you make other reports and notifications.
Contact the Social Security Administration
The thief may have used your Social Security number to apply for government benefits or take out credit in your name. Notify the Social Security Administration as soon as possible, even if you’re not sure whether your number has been compromised. You can call their Fraud Hotline at 800-269-0271.
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File a Police Report
Notify your local authorities of what’s happened, as well as law enforcement in areas where the fraudulent transactions occurred. Provide them with the ID theft affidavit you filed with the FTC and make sure you get a copy of the police report. It should list all accounts that have been compromised or set up in your name, as well as the names of all officers you spoke with.
Notify the Credit Bureaus
Now it’s time to reach out to the major credit bureaus. TransUnion has a special phone number for fraud victims — 800-680-7289 — that you can call to place a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alerts last for 1 year and notifies all potential creditors that you do not authorize any new credit in your name. An extended alert lasts for seven years and entitles you to two free copies of your credit report in the first 12 months. Creditors are obligated to take extra precautions to verify your identity if anyone — including you — attempts to open new accounts in your name during that time.